Anne Toner

Free Speech: Jane Austen, Robert Bage, and the Subversive Shapes of Dialogue

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Hermsprong; Dialogue; Speech Attribution; Style.

In this essay, I examine Jane Austen's restraint in attributing direct speech to its speakers in "Pride and Prejudice", a matter on which she reflected explicitly in a letter to her sister, Cassandra. I connect this feature of Austen's writing - free direct speech - with the dramatic qualities of her dialogue, but also specifically with Robert Bage's presentation of speech in his 1796 novel "Hermsprong", a novel that Austen owned. The political dimensions of Bage's dialogue, its freedom in the discussion of ideas and its subtle omissions of person, resonate with the style and spirit of "Pride and Prejudice". Austen's interest in free direct speech also bears upon her famed development in presenting the mind, in free indirect discourse.

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